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Gold Star spouse finds purpose in helping others

Jessica Manfre Avatar

Graduating from the prestigious United States Air Force Academy is worthy of accolades and celebration. Instead, Captain Gilbert “Gil” Munoz said he needed a little “more mud” and cross-commissioned into the Army’s Special Forces. It’s a story as unique as he was.

His wife Emily told us, “He was deeply grounded in the love of his parents, sisters and extended family. They used words like ‘busy’ when talking about him and always with fond and possibly indulgent smiles. Remember those old Family Circus cartoons when they used dotted lines to indicate where the characters had gone and what they’d done?  He used to describe the obstacle courses he created for himself like that. Out a window, over a truck or around the yards. I always picture his childhood like that, remembering how he’d draw those dotted lines, explaining how much he enjoyed running routes in between and around his family members, certain of himself and maybe a bit proud of his own mischief. When he spoke of his childhood, his eyes always twinkled.”

That personality led him to pursue the coveted Green Beret through the Army instead of special operations opportunities with the Air Force in 1998. Following a tour in South Korea and a two-year stint with the 3rd U.S. Infantry (the Old Guard), Gil was selected for Special Forces training in 2002. In November 2002, he reported to the 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne). 

“He was drawn to rigorous training and self-improvement,” Emily added. 

Gil was assigned to 7th Special Forces Group in October of 2003 and a year later he and Emily were married. 

“He was passionate about being an honorable, capable leader. He was dedicated to knowing everything he could and to having a humble understanding of where that could inevitably stop. He expected the absolute best from himself and believed in showing up for his team. They were unquestionably the most important part of any mission for him,” Emily remembered. “Another team leader who was a service academy graduate told me once that he and others were the team leaders that people in special forces ‘expected’. Well-educated, competent, and committed to duty, honor and country. He went on to say that Gil was the kind of team leader people ‘hoped for.’”

He had a short deployment to Iraq and when he returned home in January of 2005, Gil started to feel sick. 

“He died of an acute combat-related illness on February 9, 2005, a few weeks after returning home from a deployment in Latin America and between a site survey to Iraq and an upcoming combat deployment to Iraq. His unit was engaged in intense urban combat exercises in preparation for their return to the Middle East,” Emily shared. “He hoped that winning a marksmanship contest showed his team that he was committed to coming through for them with both his character and his skills. Yet within hours of feeling sick he was on life support due to an aggressive hemorrhagic infection; it was our first wedding anniversary.”

Emily shared that it felt like her life ended with Gil’s. 

“I loved who I was when he loved me; I’m ashamed of how I have floundered at times, missing the life we could have grown into together. There’s a beautiful line in a Pablo Neruda poem that says, ‘Survive me with such pure force you make the pallor and the coldness rage’. Any day I am closer to that – I am closer to him,” she said.

Not long after his death, she found the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. What started as support, became a lifeline and new purpose. Today she is the Director of Innovation – developing new and needed programming for surviving families. 

Many soldiers and Green Berets remarked that Gil was a role model and the epitome of a “quiet professional.”

“I think he would want people to remember that every time we look at walls, monuments, and memorials, there are names behind names,” Emily said. “There are people, and stories and whole lives behind everyone who comes home from war and everyone who does not. It is up to us to look.”

Jessica Manfre is an author and freelance writer for multiple publications. She is a licensed social worker, earning her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Central Florida in 2020. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Northwestern State University. Jessica is the co-founder and CFO of Inspire Up, a 501c3 nonprofit promoting global generosity and kindness through education, empowerment and community building. She is the spouse of an active duty Coast Guardsman and mother of two. When she isn't working, you can find her reading a good book and drinking too much coffee.